Four family members dead, thee more at risk – “it ripped us apart”
My name is John Cornes and I am 56 years old. My family was once the biggest haemophilia family in the UK. There were seven boys, six of them with haemophilia, and one sister. Six out of seven of us were infected with killer viruses by our NHS treatment. My brother Gary contracted HIV and Hepatitis C. In 1992, he died, leaving behind a widow, Lee, and his baby son, who he adored. Eighteen months later, in 1994, Roy, who also had HIV and Hep C died too. Another eighteen months passed, and Gordon died. I remember it was around Christmas time.
In February 2000, Gary’s wife Lee died. She had contracted HIV from Gary, and was buried with him. You can imagine what this did to us, but especially to our mother, Audrey. Previously she had been a big, strong woman – a bit like the ones in the Les Dawson sketches! She used to put on a tough outer shell to encourage us boys to be strong, but when she lost three of her sons, and knew that there might be two more, the shell crumbled. She became thin and gaunt, and in 2002 she died too. I spent about five years grieving for my mum.
I don’t like funerals.
That left me, two of my brothers and my sister. I would do anything for her. She looked after all three of them before they died, and then again with our mum. No-one should have to do that. What happened next? Well, my ex-wife and I decided to legally change the surname of our two children, so that no-one would know they were part of the ‘AIDS family’.
That’s how bad the stigma was in those days. Today, I am proud of my name, but it was different then. It never goes away, and in many ways as time goes on it becomes harder. My wife and I split up, although we are still friends. My sister split from her husband. Two and a half years ago I broke up from my new partner.
After the deaths and the funerals I overworked to put it all to the back of my mind. It didn’t work, and two and a half years ago I had a breakdown as a result of depression. At the time I was on 24 tablets a day; part of a trial to treat my Hep C. My immunity broke down and I thought about suicide. I now have cirrhosis. My two remaining brothers* also have Hep C, but fortunately no cirrhosis yet.
Now, I am a workaholic, and I am scared of the time when I might not be able to work. I have an office job and a great employer; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it. If I could ask one thing of the government, it would be to admit what they’ve done. I believe that the Thatcher government murdered my family. Contaminated blood broke us. It destroyed us. It ripped us apart. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
* Note: Since this was written, another brother has died as a result of contaminated blood.